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June 2, 1998


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Memories of the Raj

Raj Kapoor Click for bigger pic!
Raj Kapoor always dreamt of making films. And he made them with an intensity that few in his time could match. As an actor, his vulnerable face made him easily identifiable with the romantic tramp he often portrayed. Very Chaplinesque. But then as he himself admitted, there was much of the little man in him too.

Born on December 14, 1924, he grew up in an environment redolent of cinema, starting his career as a child artiste.

He wanted to make films and, after failing his secondary exams, assisted directors like Kidar Sharma, Amiya Chakravarty and Sushil Majumdar, from whom he learnt every aspect of film-making.

It was only after this that he went on to direct and produce his first film for RK Films, Aag, starring himself and Nargis in the lead roles. He was 22. The film's theme was powerful and the people were completely bowled over by the unconventional film. He repeated the subject much, much later in Satyam Shivam Sundaram and the film again was a hit.

With Awaraa, Shree 420 and Barsaat, Raj Kapoor consolidated his position as one of three top stars of the times. The other two were Dev Anand and Dilip Kumar. Awaraa became internationally famous and was a craze especially in what was then the Soviet Union. The song "Mera Jootha hai Japani" from Shri 420 is still sung by the Russians. His last film as a leading man was his autobiographical Mera Naam Joker which took nine years to make. He did act in other RK films, but never in the lead role.

His longest association was with Nargis who was his leading lady for almost a decade. They were together till Jagte Raho after which the pair broke up, and Nargis married Sunil Dutt.

Raj was heartbroken, and refused to make movies till he ran into Padmini. That inspired him into making Jis Desh Main Ganga Behti Hain which led to them getting very close. Padmini too got married. The third heroine Raj Kapoor was linked with was Vyjayanthimala. Their last film together was Sangam, Raj Kapoor's first film in technicolour.

Raj Kapoor's films highlighted his fetish for white, all his heroines clad in that, reverting back to a childhood fascination for a woman who wore white. An issue brought to the fore in his Shri 420, wherein the heroine in virginal white, Vidya (knowledge) contrasts sharply with the vamp in black, Maya (Illusion).

He had high regard for Lata Mangeshkar too who incidentally also preferred white and whom he considered lucky for his films.

Raj made films that were shifted from the entertaining to the moral to the maudlin. And after the debacle of his magnum opus, Mera Naam Joker, Raj shrugged off his acting responsibilities, making Bobby, a teenage love story that sparked off a spate of clones. Then came Prem Rog about widow remarriage and Ram Teri Ganga Maili about the innocent Ganga, who like her namesake, the Ganges, was dirtied by mankind along the way. But since all his films ended happily, they did not compromise the demands of the box office.

Vignettes from the
life of the showman
He shot two songs for
Henna before his death on June 2, 1988. He had many close friends who worked with him till the end, among them one Bunny Reuben. Bunny started out as a film journalist and later became a publicist and a close confidante of Raj Kapoor. He wrote Raj Kapoor's biography, the only one available. Here, on the tenth death anniversary of the legendary filmmaker, Bunny speaks to Sharmila Taliculam about a friend who was also a great film-maker.

Time has flown fast. Unbelievable that 10 years have passed now. It is a vacuum very difficult to fill. The film industry without Raj Kapoor looks as if there is a big hole somewhere. Because the kind of films he made are no longer being made today.

Our film people have this pet claim that they give the public what they want. But what they give us is a lot of s***. Filmmakers like Raj Kapoor made films that raised the standard and expectation of the people. There was always a little message in those entertainers. They were not propaganda films, but a story, which said something. That was the kind of films Raj Kapoor was good at.

He always selected stories, which said something. And he put it across with comedy, with humour, with a certain amount of poignancy, romance... Little simple touches. Like in a scene in Shri 420where Raj and Nargis are having a tea at a road side stall and he doesn't have money. So he turns to her and tells her that she should lend him two annas as he has only a hundred rupee note and the tea man might not have change. That was so simple and touching. So human.

Raj Kapoor was a tremendous personality. I have known him since 1949-50 onwards. I had just got out of college and was becoming a film journalist at the time.

Raj Kapoor already had made a wide range of films. He had the vision of a filmmaker. He was a writer, he knew music, he knew dancing, and he grew up in Calcutta because Prithviraj was working for New Theatres. So Raj knew Bengali too...

He had an innate sense of rhythm. When he was staying in Byculla, there was this Catholic lady who taught him music. He knew everything. Even editing which he learned later. It's an interesting story actually. Filmmaking was in his blood and he knew it thoroughly.

He had a good editor and, at some point of time the man began demanding more money... There was a feeling that the man would damage the film if his demands were not met. But Raj learnt editing himself and, after that film, did all his editing himself.

Raj Kapoor's style of film-making was different from that of others. I know because I have worked with other producers too. They work in total secrecy. They don't show the rushes till the film is in the final stage... So even if you don't like something, you can't do much because of the money involved. And the film often went on to release with the mistakes.

Raj Kapoor Click for bigger pic!
But Raj Kapoor worked differently. He had his own studio, his preview theatre and he ran a open house. After every sequence everybody could see the rough print and decide what was good or bad. And everybody meant everybody, even the tea boy.

He would never ignore suggestions. He would take the ones that were good and work on it. That way he was attuned to the masses right from the beginning of the film. In the last film he completed, Ram Teri Ganga Maili, he shot the film up to the climax and showed it to us. The trial had a full house; even the distributors came in to see it.

Everybody liked the film, but were curious as to what the climax would be. The original one called for the girl Ganga dying in the end. He told them that and there was uproar. Everybody wanted to know how the heroine of the film could die and that the film would not work if that were to happen.

He listened and shot three versions of the climax. Ultimately, to keep everybody happy, he worked out his own end to that film -- the hero gives up his riches and goes away with the girl. That film did so well that Rajsaab earned a lot of money. Those days he had a bit of trouble with the income tax department. This film solved that problem too.

Well, so he listened and did what the people wanted. There were exceptions and films worked without the usual demands, but he knew the pulse of the people. That is why he could make films that were hits.

I myself was destined to meet him. It started with his film, Andaz. Those days B K Karanjia was the chairman of NFDC; he also ran a movie tabloid called Movie Times. He took a freelance material from me.

I had written an article, Who was better in Andaz - Dilip or Raj?That generated both criticism and appreciation. After that I wrote a review of the film Awaara for Sunday Standard ,which is Indian Express today. It was 1951, the day 7th December. It was a ritual those days that every filmmaker whose film has released would look through all the Sunday papers.

That day K A Abbas, who had written the story and V P Sathe, who was a publicist and a co-writer, were together at Abbas's house.

A review is always an ego thing with the producers. So when they read my review, they were very impressed and told Rajsaab about it. So he sent a word through one of his people saying that he wanted to meet me. I went and met him and we just clicked. It was love at first sight. We had a great friendship. And surprisingly he had this knack of keeping his most trusted and favourite people with him till the end. They never left him. Allaudin, Radhu Karmakar, Shanker Jaikishen, Shailendra, Hasrat Jaipuri...

'He was very comfortable with the common man'

Pics taken with permission from Bunny Reuben's Raj Kapoor -- an intimate biography

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